Friday morning at St Pancras station in London awoke to a familiar scene, DreadLAX’ers getting ready to invade Europe for another epic lacrosse tournament. What made this one special was it was the last official tour of 2013 for DreadLAX and our first ever box tournament. With a lighter than expected squad consisting of mostly inexperienced box lax players this was always going to be an interesting finish to a truly epic 2013 calendar!
DreadLAX started with a full complement of players for the Eurostar (another first!) and set off to Lille! A relatively quiet train to Lille by DreadLAX standards ensued and we jumped off the train. Almost without our goalie who had gone walkabout, this became a bit of a theme for the weekend as you’ll see!
A quick bite to eat with a few beers followed by a trip on the metro and we made it to the hotel. Once checked in and changed we headed to the Halle de la Glisse for a quick familiarisation of the arena. After two hours of much needed range finding we were all dialled in to comfortably hit the cage from most areas of the arena, in the back of our minds was the thought, how easy is it going to be with a keeper?
Banishing any worries of our accuracy in front of goal we headed back to the hotel with a mission to get cultural and headed out to see the sights of Lille. We found the Emerald Islanders in a local bar and introduced them, along with some of the newer DreadLAX’ers to a few rounds of 3man as well as sampling as many different beers from the region as possible. A short while later some of the European contingent of DreadLAX arrived and we headed off to meet them at the hotel before heading out again to find another bar. There weren’t many open but the one we found will stay long in the memory for a whole host of reasons. Let’s just say it was different, they didn’t serve beer, however almost any spirit you could think of as well as a range of hot spiced teas were. A bit of karaoke and we called it a night, heading back to the hotel to sample some whisky then bed.
Saturday morning and the whole squad was up and ready for our first game at the punishing time of 9:15! A quick breakfast, classic continental consisting of assorted meats and cheeses with coffee and we were off. First up was our good friends from the Netherlands, the Straighteners! Having lost to them in the final of the Tilburg Cup earlier this year we knew what they were capable of and got stuck in. Minus our goalie. Getting a lift with some locals ended up with him missing most of the first half as they got lost on the way to the ground. Tactical? Maybe, but with a hastily acquired ringer from EuroLAX we began the game all square. The first half was physical with a lot of up down play from both teams, both goalies being peppered with shots but the Straighteners having the better accuracy on some breakaway plays.
Half time saw us two goals down, the second half Jason Jones pick up a nasty ankle injury benching him for the game and made our small bench smaller. That and our inexperience of the indoor game began to show and they ran out to take a 7-0 victory.
Coach John Saunders was firm but fair, pointing out our mistakes and giving us the pep talk we need to get ourselves together for the next game. Coach Saunders would now be ably assisted by his new assistant Jason Jones whose injury proved to be serious enough to write him off for the weekend, our small bench was getting smaller!
Next up were the hosts, Lille, with a more organised warm up with all the squad in attendance we came out of the blocks fast. Coach Saunder’s advice and pre game chat having the desired affect with Adam Grey quickly opening the scoring with a strong drive down the left and a righty rip past the net minder! 1-0 and with the first DreadLAX goal of the tournament scored the nerves disappeared and we got on with our “hustle” brand of lax, riding hard, causing turnovers and pinning Lille back we kept the scoreboard ticking over. Goals came from all through the squad as we began to gel as a team and find our feet in the box arena. Running out eventual 10-0 winners felt good but was not a true reflection of the effort from the Lille guys who kept coming, hitting hard and giving us a lot of trouble at face offs. When the final whistle went it was a very relieved and buoyant DreadLAX squad that headed towards the bar for a refreshing pint.
At this moment it is worth pointing out that the tournament organisers really know their market. Imported Belgian beer at €1 a cup was just what the doctor ordered, alongside the huge lunches (which were included with the tournament fee!) we sat back to watch some of the other teams and eye up possible future opponents. The Irish and the Czechs quickly established themselves as the teams to beat in this tournament, their experienced box players (and huge benches) proving to be telling factors in every game.
With the first mini group stages over we found that our next to games for the first would be against our drinking buddies from the night before the Irish, followed by the Czechs… Wait a minute, could that be right? A quick review and yes, we were going to be playing probably the top two teams in the tournament. An old coach once told me you can only play whose in front of you so we got our kit together got on the floor and got ready to face the Irish. One of the hardest and most physical games of the tournament turned out to be one of our best displays all tournament as we got stuck in. We might have lost the game 9-3 but we could walk off the floor with our heads held high as we had faced a squad with three times our number and given them a close contest and judging from the sweat drenched smiling faces as we shook hands, everyone had enjoyed it!
With a long gap before our next game we decided to raise the noise in the close to capacity stands another notch or two, players were dispatched to the bar to purchase “metres” of beer. €10 got you 11 cups of beer and we took full advantage of the offer and our proximity to the bar. Well done Jason for getting us some prime seats! To take the noise up another level we were also blessed with one half of our Belgian “Double Trouble” tag team, Iris de Vree! Iris brought the noise and it certainly had an effect as we led the crowd supporting the following games.
The old adage of “saving the best till last” was never more true! The last game of Boxmania Day 1 was DreadLAX versus tournament favourites, the Czech team, LC Pardubice! A re-fuelled DreadLAX came out of the blocks fast and pressured the Czechs into several mistakes. Pushing hard we had a lot of possession and keeping the star players from the Czech team without the ball. Adam Grey ripped in a blinding shot past the Czech keeper which launched the remaining crowd to their feet and kept us within one at half time! A punishing second half (for LC Pardubice) saw the boys in black finish a step behind the Czechs losing 5-3. You wouldn’t have thought it seeing the looks on both teams faces, us jubilant for keeping the Pardubice boys to their lowest score of the day and the Czechs looking a little confused! With the games over for the first day and feeling pretty happy with the results from our depleted squad it was time to celebrate! A few extra beers at the bar reflecting on a fantastic day of box lacrosse in a great arena took us well into the evening, sampling Cognac and Whiskey with our Lille hosts. Special mention should go to Dylan Cowman and Adam Grey, Dylan playing in goal made some epic saves in both the Irish and Czech games and Adam leading from the front by racking up points in almost every game.
Back at the hotel quick showers, followed by some more whiskey, then some more whiskey we headed into town. Visiting a few bars and sampling several more local beers saw the DreadLAX squad splinter into groups to spread the word with the locals and other lax teams celebrating the close of the first day. Safe to say, a great time was had by all and we were thankful for the late start at 11:45 next day.
Bleary eyed we awoke, and headed downstairs for a late breakfast, recounting the stories from the night before and discussing our opponents for the day, the Germans of Team Marlbroro. The Marlbroro boys were looking decidedly fresh and tried to test us from the off. Half time however saw us up 3-2 but the boys from Germany managed to turn it on in the second half and closed it to 3-3. With just a few minutes on the clock we took a time out and drew up a play to get the shot we needed to win the game. The play worked and we got the shot, a fantastic save from the net minder denied us and the loose ball was pounced on by the Germans. As they broke quickly up the field, moving the ball well they managed to get a shot off that clipped our goalie and painfully trickled over the line. 4-3 and with the final whistle not far off we threw everything we had to get the draw, in vain. It wasn’t to be and the looks on the faces of the DreadLAX boys was a bitter one, lining up we shook the guys hands and thanked them for the game. The win was there’s and deservedly so, they took their chances and were clinical!
In a weird quirk of fate the result meant that the final placing game of the day meant we would again be facing the Marlbroro boys and Coaches Saunders and Jones got to work! With a fired up squad making a lot of noise in the warm up DreadLAX started the game at speed. Top scorer for the weekend Adam Grey opened the scoring after some quick passing on the breakaway left the Marlbroro net minder diving across cage in a desperate attempt to stop his doorstep dunk for the 1-0 lead. Knowing this was our final game of the tournament DreadLAX left nothing on the pitch, each player pouring every ounce of their energy into every second they were on the floor. The do-it-all effort would tell and not only did we finish run away winners Dylan Cowman our goalie had another shut-out, DreadLAX finishing strong and winning 7-0!
With our tournament over we sat back to watch the remaining placement games and anticipating the “THRILL IN LILLE” final matchup between the Emerald Islanders and LC Pardubice! A brutal, hard fought clash of the Titans ensued. The finesse of the Czechs set against the pace and physicality of the Irish. Despite a win or die trying effort from the Irish the skill and experience of the Czechs won out as they beat the Irish boys 7-2. The whole arena got to their feet to applaud both teams and the display they had put on. Clinical shooting, crisp passing and huge hits all set to a punishing pace! A perfect conclusion to a great tournament.
With that final over the closing ceremony began and the placing and trophies were handed out. A surprise accompaniment to the trophy was a bottle Boxmania Beer for each player. Beer that was both welcome as we were all parched from either playing, or cheering and screaming in the stands. As the final standings were read out we were delighted to discover we had placed 5th, smack right in the middle, a huge achievement for such a small squad with so little box lacrosse experience. But there was more to follow, as the best attackman and best net minder awards went to the deserving Czech stars DreadLAX were honoured with the Coolest Team of the tournament award for our uniforms (thank you ArchLevel) and sideline banter! This was the icing on the cake for us and as we departed our separate ways to our homes across Europe we all had big smiles.
There’s little to tell, or that we can tell, (you know who you are!) of our respective journeys home except to say that though we were battered and bruised we had taken part in one of the most enjoyable tournaments of the year. Those of us new to box lacrosse were well and truly hooked and planning for future tournaments wherever we could find them. Safe to say we want to say a massive thank you to the organisers for setting up this great tournament and making us feel so welcome. It was well run, well refereed and well stocked (honestly the beer and food was delicious!) and we made some great new friends as well catching up with old friends as well. Boxmania, thank you very much and we’ll see you again soon!
Photos sourced from Lacrosse Photographe